Former US National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst turned whistleblower Edward Snowden offered the general public their first real glimpse of this new reality, back in 2013, when he leaked the largest single classified document dump in history. He revealed what could only be described as a vast international conspiracy, in which multiple Western intelligence agencies work hand-in-hand collecting and analysing the personal data of their citizens, completely side-skirting any domestic laws guarding our right to privacy and due process. This ‘conspiracy’ plays a pivotal role in backing-up various allied deep states around the world.
The operational core of this digital syndicate is known as the Five Eyes alliance. Code named FVEY, it represents an international signals intelligence (SIGINT) and communications intelligence (COMINT) gathering agreement between the United States, United Kingdom (UK), Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Five Eyes alliance agencies include, but are not limited to, the US’s NSA and CIA, the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Canada’s Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), and New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).
After its official status was announced in 1955, the Five Eyes was expanded to the Nine Eyes, which includes the original five members along with four additional partnering governments who are granted “third party status.” These include spying agencies from Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and Norway.
The Nine Eyes would later expand to a Fourteen Eyes agreement which includes the Nine Eyes plus Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and Sweden. Not surprisingly, the Fourteen Eyes more or less corresponds with the core European members in the NATO military alliance. The Fourteen Eyes may also be extended up to 17 Eyes when considering other regular third party contributors like Japan, Singapore, and Israel.
Later, as the internet expanded, the sheer volume of digital content and communications meant that the Five Eyes had to readjust its core competency – from an organisation mainly preoccupied with spying on governments, institutions, and persons of interest, to an organisation whose primary task was to spy on absolutely everyone.
Overcoming legal or technical barriers became fairly straightforward, especially in the wake of the attacks of 9/11. The USA Patriot Act meant that intelligence and law enforcement agencies could invoke national security and require telecoms companies and internet service providers (ISPs) to allow fibre optic splitters to be installed at key nodes in the telecommunications infrastructure, allowing spooks to divert massive data flows to be captured and run through the various Five Eyes data analysis centres.
Spectre is Real
Michael McKinley of the Australian National University, in an article describing the full scope of the NSA’s digital arsenal, mentions “[t]he known codewords for them over recent times: Blarney, Echelon, Dancingoasis, PRISM, Tempora, XKEYSCORE [sic], Muscular, Pinwale, EgotisticalGiraffe, Stormbrew, Fairview, Oakstar, Mainway, Rampart-T, and Nucleon. Between them, they aim to attack computers using certain types of legal privacy software, and overall to harvest, store, and analyse whatever internet traffic can be hoovered up.”
Imagine if the NSA connected all of these data trawling nodes with an artificial intelligence backbone that analysed and parsed out teraflops of information in real-time. It would make the agency omnipotent. This very same dystopian scene was brought to life on the big screen in the 2015 James Bond film Spectre starring Daniel Craig. In the film, a latter-day Blofeld, played by actor Christoph Waltz, devised a new unofficial international ruling committee, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), comprised of the world’s top organised crime figures. Through his network’s infiltration of the very top levels of Western intelligence, Blofeld receives unrestricted, real-time access to all surveillance data collected by the “Nine Eyes” countries. This backdoor key gives Blofeld the power to steer global political events, move markets, and when necessary, blackmail any individual or institution into compliance.
Aside from its striking parallel to the West’s current global surveillance dragnet, Spectre raises important questions obscured by the film’s ostentatious plot. Even without Blofeld, the current Nine Eyes intergovernmental network retains all of the capabilities that any nefarious villain would ever want, to wield power or ward off any potential challengers. If operations are conducted outside public view, then the potential for abuse is virtually boundless.
Five Eyes: A Fraternal Order
The fraternal nature of SPECTRE was alluded to by the antagonist’s cinematic forefather, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, depicted in the 1963 Bond film Thunderball. “SPECTRE is a dedicated fraternity whose strength lies in the absolute integrity of its members,” said Bond’s nemesis.
Blofeld wasn’t wrong. In essence, the Five Eyes intelligence network is precisely that – a type of Anglo-fraternal organisation that wields a noticeable advantage over its rivals. Such unfettered cooperation between advanced nations like the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, means that the technical continuity of this geopolitical alliance remains more or less unmatched. Leveraging the resources of five countries spread around the globe affords the coalition a substantive advantage over just about any other global competitor. No other bloc can match its scope and scale, geographically and technologically.
It is also fundamentally neo-colonial in nature. The fact that this network comprises current and former British colonial possessions speaks to the Anglo-centric or Atlanticist worldview on which its mission is based. That Atlanticist agenda is best described as something akin to a Bilderberg Committee agenda – a set of political and industrial objectives and goals informally agreed upon by some of Western society’s most powerful luminaries and technocrats who meet at the beginning of summer at the annual Bilderberg Meeting.
Interestingly, this fraternal brotherhood only seems to extend to certain allies. While German spy agencies like the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) cooperate with their US counterparts as a “third party” government through the Fourteen Eyes agreement, Washington spooks still feel the need to constantly spy on Berlin. The 2013 Snowden leaks revealed that Germany is a major target of US espionage run out of the NSA’s own European Cryptologic Center (ECC), known affectionately as the “Dagger Complex,” located in Griesheim, in the German state of Hesse.
According to “secret” NSA documents viewed by the German publication DER SPIEGEL, the American bunker accounts for the agency’s “largest analysis and productivity in Europe.” The documents also note that the NSA uses its infamous XKEYSCORE software to trawl up its main areas of interest from inside the German government, namely foreign policy, economic stability, new technologies, advanced weaponry, arms exports, and international trade.
To add insult to injury, WikiLeaks revealed in 2015 that the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been wiretapped for years by US spies.
When interviewed on the matter, former NSA and CIA head Michael Hayden was quite flippant, openly admitting, “We steal secrets. We’re number one in it…. But, he adds, this is not malicious or industrial espionage…. We steal stuff to make you safe, not to make you rich.”
Hayden lamented the German disclosure but admitted the US government had grossly underestimated German values on issues pertaining to privacy, stating:
Perhaps we underestimated the depth of feelings that the German people – and again, not just the chancellor, but the German people, felt about this question of privacy, given their historical circumstances compared to our historical circumstances. At the Munich Security Conference it was clear to me that Germans regard privacy the way we Americans might regard freedom of speech or religion.
In similar fashion, both the European Union and the United Nations are also said to be under US surveillance. Like with Germany, NSA espionage objectives on the EU include foreign policy goals, the economy, international trade, and “energy security.” The targeting of the UN adds a whole other international dimension to these operations. A 2013 report filed by The Guardian newspaper paints a rather disturbing picture: “[L]ong before [former United Nations Secretary-General] Ban’s limousine had even passed through the White House gates for the meeting, the US government knew what the secretary general was going to talk about, courtesy of the world’s biggest eavesdropping organisation, the National Security Agency.”
The War on Encryption
Aside from concerns about statecraft, most independent-minded citizens might be alarmed by the unbridled Orwellian power of such a global operation. On this point, there is little advice one can offer other than to stay off social media or go ‘off-grid’ (offline) as much as possible to avoid leaving a detailed digital footprint that can be used to build a profile on you.
For those who depend on the internet for their day-to-day existence, going off-grid is not really a practical option, but there are tools available that can help make surveillance difficult for 5, 9, and 14 Eyes member governments. Besides using a reliable encrypted chat or messaging service, if you are not already using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), then now may be a good time to start. VPN encrypts all of your internet traffic and scrambles your IP address, making it difficult for anyone monitoring you online to pinpoint your identity, device, and physical location. One key requirement is trying to use a service based outside the Fourteen Eyes countries. This means you may not be immediately exposed should your service provider’s host country ask for back door access to your internet records. If you are using a service within the Fourteen, then be sure to choose a company that has a ‘no logs’ policy. In other words, should a US or UK agency like the NSA or GCHQ make a formal request from a service provider to hand over all your internet search data, then there will be nothing they can hand over. Likewise, you can use a number of encrypted instant messaging services like Telegram, or encrypted email services like Proton Mail, and also consider using an internet browser that doesn’t keep data on your surfing like Brave, or a search engine like Duck Duck Go which doesn’t save data on all of your search activity.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to Five Eyes hegemony are digital services that use end-to-end encryption. This means only the sender and receiver can view the content, concealing communications from the prying eyes of Western spy agencies. Needless to say, insatiable state authoritarians are not happy about this and have laid down a harrowing ultimatum to tech companies, demanding write-in backdoor access protocols supposedly for “law enforcement.” If firms do not comply, government officials threaten they should be ready for brute force intrusions by agents of the state. Knowing they do not have the public on their side, governments have resorted to intimidation and scare tactics in order to swing public opinion in their favour.
While served as Home Secretary in 2015, former UK Prime Minister Theresa May authored a rather opprobrious piece of legislation entitled the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA), which outlines where the British police state is heading in terms of privacy and encryption. The bill requires that any “communications service provider” (ISPs, social media platforms, VOIP, email providers and messaging service) must comply with a secret warrant signed by the Home Secretary which names any persons or organisations the government wishes to spy on.
One watchdog organisation who has followed the IPA is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). According to researchers, the draconian decree, also known as the ‘Snooper’s Charter’, requires tech companies to insert special malware onto their systems so the spooks can use their platforms to “interfere with any other system.” The secret warrant explicitly allows those companies to violate any other laws in complying with the warrant. Essentially, the warrant enables said tech firms to violate the law in the process of complying with the government’s secret snooper’s warrant. This would also include the Home Secretary ordering firms like Facebook, Samsung or Apple to quietly remove their ‘secure communication’ features from products without notifying the public about it.
In terms of its legality (or lack thereof), the devil is in the absence of detail. Danny O’Brien from EFF noted how the UK government has been very careful not to pin itself down with any specifics, explaining, “Sure enough, the word ‘encryption’ does not appear in the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA). That’s because it is written so broadly it doesn’t need to.”
EFF describes the severity of the IPA in terms of riding roughshod over basic civil rights and protections:
“The Investigatory Powers Bill, one of the first laws to explicitly permit such techniques for law enforcement and intelligence work, contains very little in the way of oversight, and grants the British government an almost blank check for deploying malware against individual users as well as the heart of the internet’s infrastructure. It also demands that private companies and individuals assist in the deployment of this spyware, no matter where they operate in the world, and requires that this assistance be kept permanently secret from customers, partners, and the general public.
IPA provisions might also include the government forcing a chain of coffee shops to use the company’s free WiFi service to deploy British spy agency malware against its customers.
The state’s intrusion goes even further with the IPA laying the parameters for the UK government to demand tech companies supply them with new product designs… in advance of commercial release. This is a shocking act of overreach by the British state – one that exceeds even the most invasive state intervention in a country like China.
One has to ask: given the chance, would the UK government eventually pursue a complete ban on encryption?
While there is considerable push-back from tech companies and public advocacy groups, there’s surprisingly little rebellion from most mainline politicians, partly because they are not being pressured from their constituents on this issue. What anti-privacy initiatives like the IPA clearly demonstrate is that Britain is the one clearly setting the dark tone and aggressive pace for the Five Eyes cohort. The agenda clearly seeks a renewed license to put tech firms in a corner by deploying emotive language and invoking evermore dramatic conspiracy claims. In her article written for the Telegraph, current UK Home Secretary Priti Patel even went so far as to equate Facebook’s noncompliance with aiding and abetting “child abusers, drug traffickers and terrorists plotting attacks.”
Of course, Patel’s comments shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed the issue of privacy over the years, particularly in the post-9/11 era where politicians and national security state operatives routinely gaslight the public to justify every intrusion or roll-back of privacy rights by citing the most extreme and infrequent instances of ‘terrorism’. For the 21st century technocracy and police state, that’s been the gift that just keeps giving, but by the same token the public have become increasingly wary of such dramatic government claims due to the fact that very rarely, if ever, has government wiretapping or backdoor spying actually thwarted a terrorist attack in what is popularly referred to in national security rhetoric and Hollywood propaganda lore as ‘the ticking bomb’ scenario.
According to a report by security experts Sophos, at a recent Five Eyes security summit officials left no doubt as to their intentions, stating: “Tech companies should include mechanisms in the design of their encrypted products and services whereby governments, acting with appropriate legal authority, can obtain access to data in a readable and usable format.”
Five Eyes member Australia took the matter even further, threatening to “break in” if tech companies do not facilitate the access requirements of the state. This new policy initiative was expressed unabashedly in a memo issued by the Australian Dept of Home Affairs on behalf of the Five Eyes alliance:
The Governments of the Five Eyes encourage information and communications technology service providers to voluntarily establish lawful access solutions to their products and services that they create or operate in our countries…. Should governments continue to encounter impediments to lawful access to information necessary to aid the protection of the citizens of our countries, we may pursue technological, enforcement, legislative or other measures to achieve lawful access solutions.
A closer look at the memo reveals that Australia’s authoritarian designs are not restricted to stopping terrorists and paedophiles but appear to target any entities they feel are “sowing discord” (including any popular dissenting opinion and analysis), that supposedly threatens our vaunted “democratic institutions.” This may also include any foreign media (as depicted in the heavily promoted ‘Russian disinformation’ narrative), independent media, and free-thinking individuals on social media. The language could not be more arbitrary:
We are determined to ensure that the technologies that have been developed to enhance prosperity and freedom are not exploited by those who seek to promote terrorism and violent extremism; prey upon and exploit our children; or spread disinformation and discord to undermine our democratic institutions.
This, alongside Britain’s notorious ‘Snooper’s Charter’, demonstrates how Five Eyes partners are working in concert by gradually laying down an alliance-wide legal framework that will legitimise what would normally be unwarranted activity by state agencies. This is done by suspending any constitutional provisions or rights – all in the name of protecting national security, or even the national interest as the state defines it.
Many leading VPNs and messaging services can protect your data with 256-bit encryption, now used in most modern encryption algorithms and protocols. For the moment, this technology offers fairly robust protection from the prying eyes of the intelligence services, but advances in computing power may eventually put many of these protections at grave risk. New advances in quantum computing threaten to usher in a new event horizon whereby the next generation of computers could conceivably crack today’s industry-standard 256-bit encryption key in a relatively short period of time – in mere minutes, or even seconds. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have shown how a quantum processor can crack a seemingly impenetrable 2,048-bit RSA encryption in only eight hours. Exactly how far off we are to this quantum revolution is anyone’s guess but when it arrives it could tip the scales of privacy away from the consumer and in favour of those organisations who control this new technology, namely Silicon Valley monopolists and the intergovernmental Five Eyes complex. On the flip side, advances in quantum decryption may also coincide with new methods of encryption that could slow down quantum crackers enough to make decryption impractical.
It’s incredible to think that these technological battles waged in binary virtual space may end up defining our relationship with the state in the physical world.
Things are moving extremely fast right now. Such a dystopic state of affairs must be resisted on every level. Our future depends on it.
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2. A Look at the Inner Workings of NSA’s XKEYSCORE, www.theintercept.com/2015/07/02/look-under-hood-xkeyscore/
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13. Facebook’s encryption could stop our police doing their job properly –
and I won’t allow that to happen, www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/07/30/facebooks-encryption-could-stop-police-job-properly-wont-allow/
14. What’s the Evidence Mass Surveillance Works? Not Much, www.pro
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16. Five Country Ministerial 2018, www.homeaffairs.gov.au/about-us/our-port
17. MIT Technology Review, www.technologyreview.com/s/613596/how-a-quantum-computer-could-break-2048-bit-rsa-encryption-in-8-hours/
18. Why Quantum Computers Might Not Break Cryptography, www.quanta
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